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July 03, 2013
Tips for keeping temporary employees safe

In the wake of a recent cluster of fatalities involving temporary employees who had been on the job for only a few days, OSHA has launched an initiative to address safety for new temporary workers. OSHA’s announcement of the initiative cited a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report showing that fatal work injuries involving contractors accounted for 12 percent of work-related deaths in 2011.

Temporary workers offer many advantages, enabling employers to identify promising workers before offering them permanent positions and alleviating short-term staffing shortages—but they can also pose a significant safety risk.

Here’s how to make sure your temporary workers do you more good than harm:

Train them yourself. In many of the recent fatal accidents involving temporary workers, the workers received inadequate training. Some employers that are tempted to cut safety training eliminate safety training for temporary workers first, thinking they can simply pass the buck for safety training to the temporary agency.

It’s important, however, to conduct any site-specific training yourself. Make sure your training:

  • Is provided in a language workers can understand. Poorly understood instruction leads to injuries.
  • Covers safe operating procedures for equipment, including location of emergency stops and when and how to implement lockout/tagout procedures.
  • Covers hazardous chemical safety.
  • Covers site-specific emergency procedures.

If you hold daily or periodic safety meetings, make sure temporary workers participate in those, too.

Document the training you provide. Because training is such a common failure point, if a temporary worker is injured, the first thing inspectors or insurers will want to see is your training record. Include the date temporary workers were trained, a description of the training given and the topics covered, and the trainer’s name.

Provide employees with personal protective equipment (PPE). Workers required to provide their own PPE may bring inadequate gear or gear that is in poor condition. For example, workers who bring their own hard hats might bring hard hats that have suffered previous impacts, or are brittle from improper storage, and therefore not protective. Control the quality of the protection by providing it yourself, and make sure workers know how to properly use and maintain PPE.

Use warning signs and labels. A worker who is not closely familiar with the workplace may not remember all precautions and hazard warnings, so make safety warnings explicit and visible. Label emergency stops, post reminders about lockout/tagout and machine guarding, and be clear about prohibited behaviors, such as operating equipment without safety gear.

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